Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Central PA Jazz Fest returns for 39th year, making music throughout the region

The CPFJ youth band

Harrisburg is full of musical artists on the cutting edge of the industry, each hoping to deliver a sound like you’ve never heard before. But, this week, the city is taking it back to the music that started it all, “America’s original art form”—jazz.

For the 39th straight year, Central PA Friends of Jazz (CPFJ) is presenting their jazz festival, which features performances in Harrisburg, York, Mt. Gretna, Dillsburg and Hummelstown.

“It’s a whole lot of jazz in four days,” said Andy Herring, co-executive director of CPFJ.

CPFJ is a nonprofit organization with a threefold mission of the preservation, education and presentation of jazz. Along with their six annual concerts and performance at Harrisburg Artsfest, their youth band and jazz camp, jam sessions and newsletter—the Central PA Jazz Festival is one of the ways they fulfill their vision.

This year, festival musicians will include the River City Big Band, vocalist Amy Banks and the CPFJ Youth Band. However, the big name at the festival this year is pianist and composer George Cables, who plays Saturday at the Gretna Playhouse.

Cables has been playing jazz for longer than the festival has even existed, performing with renowned artists like Sarah Vaughan and Freddie Hubbard.

“Getting to see George and his trio play is kind of like a window back in to seeing jazz developed,” Herring said.

On Thursday, one of the performance locations will be the Pride of the Susquehanna, on the river in Harrisburg. Audience members will float along the river listening to the Dave Stahl Quintet for a three-hour evening cruise on Thursday. It’s the perfect venue to socialize while enjoying the music, Herring said.

On Friday night, CPFJ is turning up the sound as they feature a festival jazz party at the new Greystone Brew House in Dillsburg.

“We try to stay dynamic with new venues all over the area,” Herring explained.

There will be two free jam sessions on Saturday for aspiring jazz musicians. The stage is open for anyone at any skill level from the community who wants to play with other musicians, Herring said.

A jazz picnic will take place on Sunday at Indian Echo Caverns in Hummelstown featuring Amy Banks, the Andy Roberts Trio, Teen Town, Mark Swartzbaugh’s Quartet and the CPFJ Youth Band.

Ron Waters, a jazz musician, has been directing the CPFJ Youth Band for over 30 years. His band typically has 15 to 20 students. Those interested in the band are not required to audition, making it ideal for any beginner that loves jazz.

Waters explained his passion for keeping jazz alive is through young musicians. Being able to perform at the festival is just one more way to do that.

“The audience is the thing that keeps jazz alive,” Waters said.

According to Herring, having youth at the festival is what makes it so special.

“It’s a balance between internationally world-renown musicians all the way to students,” he said.

The Central PA Jazz Festival runs from July 11 to 14. For more information and the full schedule of events visit

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